What News Editors Can Learn From Silicon Valley

Credit: Boris Bobrov at Unsplash

Although many innovations come from Silicon Valley, that does not mean that editorial staff should copy all the strategies that have made Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft – in short GAFAM – so successful.

But Edward Roussel, chief innovation officer, Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal, thinks digital publishers have a lot to learn from Big Tech.

Speaking at New World Meetings event, he pointed out that some of the biggest West Coast-based tech companies are entering the news business: Google with its News Showcase (launched in the UK in 2021), Facebook News (2019), Apple News + (2019) and Microsoft with its various products like MSN.

Just take Apple News +, Apple’s subscription-based news aggregator that gives readers access to premium content. Two years after its launch, it is available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Facebook News tab, a feature that displays news content in a dedicated area rather than in a user’s feed, launched in 2019 in the US and expanded to the UK this year.

Whether we like it or not, Roussel continued, the Silicon Valley giants are turning to the news publishing business and we need to think about what that means for our industry in the long run. Of course, they are technology companies and their main activity is not collecting or distributing news. But given how quickly these companies can innovate – think Apple’s disruption of the music industry or Amazon’s Kindle – that could change in the next five to ten years.

So how can we keep up with Big Tech and learn from their culture of innovation?

Five critical trends for news

According to Roussel, there are five main areas in which publishers must focus their innovation efforts if they are to remain competitive. And a better understanding of the user must be at the center of any new approach.

Brevity

Although we check our smartphones around 160 times a day, the average session is around three minutes. Publishers need to take into account this short attention span of mobiles and experiment with new products that meet the need for speed.

Community

The public is increasingly focusing on the interactive nature of its content and not just on its quality. Platforms like Substack, Cameo, OnlyFans, or Patreon have done very well in foreclosure, as people pay for the value the interaction brings, rather than the content.

audio

This field is marked by two trends: it is fast growing and technology driven. The demand for audio content is increasing with every new product that allows us to access it, like smart speakers, Apple’s CarPlay and, most importantly, AirPods which sold around 100 million units in 2020 alone. Audio is with us all the time and it drives innovation in creating content that presents opportunities for publishers.

Say “no” to initiatives that interfere with your strategy.Edward roussel

Video

User-generated video content has defined many of the biggest stories of 2020, like the death of George Floyd or the storming of the U.S. Capitol. The importance of video as a source and medium for disseminating stories will only grow in the years to come.

Customization

AI opens the door to highly targeted information. Personalization permeates every part of the newsroom, from organizing articles on the homepage to distributing newsletters and displaying advertisements. As technology companies increasingly personalize their products, users expect their experience to be tailored to their needs and preferences.

“The key is to focus on Silicon Valley innovation that helps drive your strategy,” Roussel says.

“Look for an innovation that accelerates your strategy and say ‘no’ to initiatives that are a distraction. Better to work with a small number of companies, with a deeper relationship, than to be dispersed in the approach.”

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